Madeleine McCann: Kate At Book Libel Hearing

The mother of missing Madeleine McCann has said she is in Portugal to "stop the damage" she believes is being caused to the search for her daughter by a former police chief.

She was speaking after the first hearing of the family's libel action against Goncalo Amaral, who published a book making allegations about the three-year-old's disappearance.

She and her husband Gerry have launched £1m libel action against Mr Amaral in a Lisbon civil court.

Speaking after the first hearing, Mrs McCann told reporters: "I'm here today for Madeleine and obviously I strongly hope for justice."

She said she wanted to stop the suffering the theories in the book have caused to her family.

Amaral's book, published in 2007, claimed Madeleine died accidentally and the McCanns had been negligent, accusations the McCanns have strongly denied.

The first witness in the case was Susan Hubbard, a friend of the McCanns and the wife of the family's priest.

Mrs Hubbard said the couple were forced to use all their energy to defend themselves, instead of searching for their daughter.

Mrs McCann attended the hearing this morning without her husband. She was accompanied by her mother Susan Healy.

It is understood Mr McCann is staying at the family home in Rothley, Leicestershire, to look after the couple's children.

Their lawyer, Isabel Duarte, set out the case on behalf of the McCanns and their twins Sean and Amelie, now eight, at the court.

Mrs McCann could have been called as a witness but is not expected to give evidence.

Instead, a number of relatives will also appear in the witness box.

They will speak about the "damage" caused by Mr Amaral's book which, they claim, poisoned public opinion in Portugal against the family.

Earlier, spokesman Clarence Mitchell said: "Kate and Gerry McCann remain very confident that they will win the case.

"They have a strong case against Mr Amaral. The matter is now in the hands of their lawyer as it goes through court."

Madeleine disappeared from her family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in the Algarve on May 3, 2007, as her parents dined at a nearby tapas restaurant with friends. She was nearly four at the time.

British detectives launched a fresh investigation into her disappearance in July - two years into a review of the case - and believe she could still be alive.

The Portuguese investigation into Madeleine's disappearance is officially closed.

The libel case will continue on Friday. It will then be adjourned until next Thursday when the court will sit again for two days. 

A final hearing is due on September 27, with the judgement expected to be deferred.